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Third-round pick doesn't look the part of cornerback

But Akron's Dwight Smith, selected 84th overall, uses his strong body and dependable hands to flourish in the role.

By ROGER MILLS

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 22, 2001


photo
[Akron Beacon Journal: Mike Cardew]
Dwight Smith of Akron.
TAMPA -- The Buccaneers have had some luck taking cornerbacks in the third round of the draft.

Late Saturday they were at it again.

Tampa Bay made University of Akron cornerback Dwight Smith the 84th overall pick with the hope that the muscular cover man can prove as valuable as two previous third-round corners, starters Donnie Abraham and Ronde Barber.

"He's a guy who has very good ball skills, is a big time interceptor and we like a lot of things about him," coach Tony Dungy said. "We feel like he will fit in with our defensive style very well."

The one thing that separates Smith from the traditional NFL corner is his 5-91/2, 210-pound frame. In a position that commonly demands speed and elusiveness, Smith has made a career of using his strong body and dependable hands.

"(God) blessed me with size," said Smith, who has a 360-pound bench press and a 33-inch vertical leap but still runs a 4.4 40-yard dash. "I've always played corner, always worked at corner. So it comes natural to me. My size has always been there. It's not like I've just gained weight. It's nothing new to me."

Dungy said Smith's size wasn't particularly noticeable on tape but did admit he was stunned when he met the Detroit native. "He has a different type of build and is not going to look like a corner," Dungy said. "He's going to look more like a safety but has played corner his whole life and we think it's really a good fit. We see him as a guy who will fit into our scheme."

At Akron, Smith clearly was a producer. A finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back, Smith finished his senior year with 10 interceptions, including eight in the first five games. One came off of the top overall pick in the draft, Michael Vick.

"(My size) helps me a lot," Smith said. "I'm not just bigger than most corners, but I'm stronger than most corners. So, if a receiver lets me get my hands on them, it will be hard for them to do things. It helps me a lot. I'm lower to the ground and can get up on them."

After re-signing Barber two weeks ago, the Bucs certainly have no shortage of cornerbacks. Smith joins nickel back Brian Kelly and reserves Terrance Parrish and Anthony Midget in what should prove a competitive training camp.

"I like the way they get after the quarterback and get after the ball," Smith said. "That's the way I'm used to playing. The cover-two scheme is nothing new. I played cover-two in high school and I played cover-two in college. It's just moving up to a new speed in the game."

In Smith, the Bucs also got a little something extra. With the Zips, Smith had 38 kickoff returns for a 21.7-yard average. "I love to return kicks and it's another chance for me to get my hands on the ball," he said.

Dungy said the Bucs have had some success selecting players from lesser known schools in later rounds and was confident that Smith can make the transition to the NFL.

"You have to take guys that you like," Dungy said. "We took Donnie Abraham in our first year and he didn't have trouble coming up and covering these guys. ... We've had pretty good luck with the first two third-rounders. So Dwight's got some big shoes to fill. If he does as well as those two, he'll be fine."

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